Scouts Inc.: Vikings finally catching some air
Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Ken Moll
Relying solely on the run game, even one led by the phenomenally talented Adrian Peterson, to carry the offense isn't a formula for success in the NFL. But neither is tossing the ball around without purpose. To elevate a previously one-dimensional offense to another level, the Vikings needed to make a more concerted effort not only to throw more often but to play to their strengths in the passing game: namely, quarterback Gus Frerotte and receiver Bernard Berrian.
Though he lacks Jackson's athleticism, Frerotte has a strong arm and boatloads of experience. His superior vision and ability to find his second and third options have undeniably helped the offense. Also, Frerotte has seemed more willing than Jackson to pull the trigger on downfield throws, which could be attributed to his years of film study, knowledge of the league and extensive game reps. Understanding when a receiver will get open even if he isn't open at the moment a quarterback releases the ball is part instinct, part experience.
And that's where Berrian comes in. His speed and quickness were underused early in the season, when Jackson was either reluctant or unsure about how to exploit Berrian's skills. Frerotte, on the other hand, has recognized when Berrian quickly eats up a cushion and will get behind a particular cornerback, delivering throws even when the receiver appeared to be covered. He also has a sense of which cornerbacks will give Berrian a big cushion and be slow to close it, taking advantage of them underneath. The result: After a three-catch, 38-yard performance in Week 1 and an unimpressive preseason with Jackson under center, Berrian has 25 catches, three touchdowns and a 19.2-yard receiving average in five games teamed with Frerotte. Those numbers aren't an indictment of Jackson but an affirmation of the value of experience.
The beauty of it is, coach Brad Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell don't appear to have changed their philosophy or scheme. But they clearly see the potential for more explosiveness and versatility with Frerotte at the helm. The Vikings have mixed in more early-down passes and have opened, if not altered, the playbook to incorporate more downfield throws.
When an offense is able to stretch the field and opponents are forced to defend a bigger area, other phases of the game (short passes, the run game, etc.) tend to open up. Defenses simply can't crowd the line or risk tight coverage techniques as often against a threat of Berrian's caliber, not with Frerotte pulling the trigger on the other end. Last week's 41-point outburst in a loss to Chicago was bittersweet, but it's a good indicator that Minnesota's offense may finally be finding its footing.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.